Authors: Kate Avery Ellison
Kate Avery Ellison
Copyright © 2012 Kate Avery Ellison
All Rights Reserved
Do not distribute or make copies of this book, electronically or otherwise, in part or in whole, without the written consent of the author.
THORNS: THE FROST CHRONICLES #2
Lia Weaver went against everything she’d ever known when she risked her life to help a Farther fugitive named Gabe escape from the Aeralian soldiers, and her life changed forever. And the Frost changed, too—the Farthers have taken over her village, a new group of vigilantes calling themselves the Blackcoats are making plans to overthrow the Farther occupiers, and the Thorns are seeking for her to join them.
Lia seeks to fight back against the evil and injustice that has swallowed up her home, but danger lurks at every turn. The monsters that dwell in the deepest regions of the Frost are growing bolder and more dangerous every day, a Farther noble takes up residence in the village on a mysterious mission, and Lia discovers even more secrets embedded in her past.
As the frozen world of the Frost grows even more perilous, can Lia survive?
I STOOD ALONE in the middle of the farmyard, the wind tugging at my hair and stinging my chapped lips as I faced the tree line. The sun had barely risen, and the shadows made a dark smudge against the edge of the farm’s fields. I stared at the place where the blue-tinged darkness touched the pristine white of the freshly fallen snow and felt a flood of apprehension rush through my veins.
Those shadows were a line of demarcation, a warning, an invisible sign shouting to me to stay out, because beyond them was the Frost, and it was not safe there.
It was early morning, and the sunlight was hidden behind a thick swath of storm clouds. But enough light permeated the frosty air to illuminate the yard of my family’s sad little farm. To my right, the barn hunkered down against the wind like a bony cow with her back half-covered in ice from the night before. The horse paddock straggled behind it in a lopsided circle. Several of the fence posts were bound with rope to keep them from sagging. Ice covered everything in a slick, sinister shine.
The farmhouse was to my back, comforting and solid despite the fact that it looked ready to topple over. The whitewashed boards blended with the snow, white on dirty white, as if the house were hiding. The windows were dark. My brother and sister still slept. There was no use rising before dawn, for no one went out while it was still dark. Our frozen world was always perilous enough with its population of bears, snow panthers, and mothkats. But after dark the most dangerous monsters in the Frost roamed.
I scoured the wall of forest for any glimmer of red light that would betray a Watcher’s gaze. I strained for the sound of shrieking they sometimes produced, but the only thing I heard was the whisper of wind against the Watcher Ward that hung over our door. The bits of wood and bone clattered together. They were painted blue and carved like snow blossoms, the only things that turned the Watchers away.
I tugged my cloak around me as my blood sang with unease.
Every time I set foot in the Frost it reminded me of a night two months ago. The night Adam Brewer and I helped a Farther fugitive named Gabe escape. The night I realized that I was not the same person I used to be. Now, just thinking about Gabe sent a dagger of pain through my chest.
A grim hush wrapped around me as I stepped through the dark barrier of limbs and into the forest. The trees were slashes of black against the white; the snowflakes that drifted down were specks of softness against my cheeks and lashes. The air throbbed with silence except for the hiss of my breath escaping from my teeth and the wet squish of my boots against the icy roots beneath my feet. My heart pounded against my ribs, but I kept going. I was not some fragile, made-of-glass village girl. I was a Weaver. I lived far from the walls that protected most of the Frost dwellers.
I had no choice but to be brave.
A branch snapped in the distance. I pressed myself again a tree, the rough bark scratching my palms as I flattened against it. My hands found the knife at my belt.
A white doe bounded from a thicket and darted past me, her ears flickering back to catch the sound of my sigh.
Not a snow panther. Not a bear.
Not a Watcher.
I pressed on, but the back of my neck prickled with apprehension with every step. I felt as if a hundred unseen eyes watched from the shadows. Memories swept over me again. The red glow. The guttural growls. The swift slice of claws as they dug into the snow.
In theory, the forest was safe from the Watchers during the light of day. They only came out once the shadows had pooled together and the moon had risen, the time when we huddled close to our hearths and burned our fires high. I could even make the trek to the secret place deep in the Frost where we’d taken Gabe, the place where the mysterious gate that had swept him away from me stood waiting.
But I refused to finish that thought. Gabe was gone. I had to focus on survival now.
Bat-like scavenging creatures called mothkats were already hovering over the trap. Their bright, beady eyes focused on me, and they fluttered away as I approached. I waved my arms, and they took to the sky. Disgusting vermin.
Mothkats weren’t dangerous individually, but a large enough pack of them could descend and strip flesh with their sharp little teeth and claws. They were just another perilous aspect of the Frost.
I crouched and looked at the trap.
A dead animal dangled between the metal jaws. A white rabbit with gray little paws. Ivy would be heartbroken if she saw it.
I lifted the body out, placed it in my sack, and carefully reset the contraption. As a little girl, I’d sometimes gone out into the forest with my Da to set traps when our food supplies dwindled and we were still days from turning in our quota and getting fresh food from the village. Now, I was doing it alone.
The rabbit was mostly fur and bones, proof of the long, hard winter. It wouldn’t be enough to feed us until quota day. I bit my lip and gave one last glance to the woods before turning to head home.
I ran the whole way back. The rabbit flopped against me. The cold air burned my nostrils and made my cheeks sting. Snow swirled around me, kicked up by my boots and knocked loose from my passage through low-hanging branches.
Panting, I reached the farmhouse. A mothkat cry split the air somewhere far above me. The Watcher Ward clattered and spun in the wind. The wind whispered faintly over the snow. It was all Frost music—wild and uncertain and weirdly beautiful in a way that made my chest ache.
I paused to knock the snow from my shoes before opening the door and stepping inside.
The warmth of the house curled around me, thawing my frozen cheeks and lips. I threw off my dripping cloak and crossed the main room to the fireplace. I laid down my bag with the rabbit and stoked the glowing coals into feeble flames. My numb fingers were clumsy with the kindling. When the fire burned bright again, I pulled out my hunting knife and set to work on the rabbit.
My twin brother Jonn’s voice was just a whisper behind me. I turned.
He leaned against the doorframe of the lower bedroom, the one my parents had used, the crutches under his arms holding him up. We were twins, almost identical, although I’d always teased that he was the prettier one. His eyes were too large for his thin face, framed by thick lashes, and I could see veins in his hands and beneath his eyes. He looked at the rabbit and then at the water clock over the mantel.
“Just checking the traps,” I said.
My gaze dropped to his left leg and slid away. The limb was thin and twisted beneath the fabric of his pants, and the bare foot that poked out shone with scar tissue. We were twins—he was the same age as me, old enough to be a man, but he hadn’t been able to walk properly since he was just a small child, so he’d never received an assignment or permission from the Elders to start a family. The accident that had rendered him a cripple in the eyes of the village had given him frequent seizures and sick spells, too. He could hobble around on crutches, but the effort it took exhausted him. He rarely left the house. He hadn’t been to the village since my parents’ deaths. My father had carried him on festival days and for some of the Assemblies, but there was no one to do that now, and besides, I knew the looks of pity and disgust the others gave him hurt.
“Are we that low on food?”
“We’re always that low these days,” I muttered.
He looked like he might say something, but thought better of it. Instead, he hobbled to his chair by the fire and lowered himself slowly into it. The crutches fell to the floor with a thump, and he reached for the basket of yarn at his feet. Quota day was coming, and we weren’t finished with the yarn and thread we owed the village Elders in exchange for the grain, salt, and other supplies that kept us from starvation during the winter months. Idle hands were a luxury none of us could afford.
I finished skinning the rabbit and put the meat in a pot to stew over the fire before cleaning up and sinking into the chair opposite him. The threadbare cushion poked at the backs of my knees where the feathers were beginning to push through the fabric. I shifted, reaching for a tangle of yarn to roll as well. The fire crackled and snapped on the hearth, and the wind whispered at the windows and sighed in the cracks. The room smelled of smoke, wet wool, and dust.
“What were you doing out so early?” he asked. “You usually check the traps after breakfast.”
Words crowded my mouth and lay heavy on my tongue, excuses mostly. I didn’t want to talk about the burning ache that kept me from sleeping and drew me to the edge of the forest. I didn’t want to involve him in anything having to do with the Thorns, or the Farthers. It was too dangerous. This was my burden, mine alone. I just shook my head. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Jonn’s voice was low, raw. “He’s not coming back, Lia.”
I flinched. He meant Gabe.
Gabe had been on the run, halfway to somewhere else, on a journey out of here. We’d done everything to see him on his way, and I’d come to care about him, and now he was gone...
And I was left holding myself together in his wake. Just like I always did when somebody left. You’d think I’d have learned by now not to care about people, because you just couldn’t count on them to stick around.
My brother watched my face, and I could tell he was looking for hints of emotional distress. But if he expected me to shatter like fine china, he was mistaken. I was carved from the Frost. I was a Weaver’s daughter. I was ice and wood and frozen rain.
I cleared my throat. “If you think I’m going to fall apart missing him, you’re wrong,” I said. “I don’t pine for people. There’s too much on the line to be moping around or feeling sorry for myself.”
Jonn was silent. I felt his disbelief in his lack of comment.
“I’m not like that,” I said, frustration creeping up my throat, tasting like bile. “I’ve never been like that. He’s gone. It’s done. Let’s pick up the pieces of our lives and move forward just like we always do. There’s a lot more to worry about than silly emotional attachments.”
“Silly emotional attachments,” he repeated. His eyes dropped to my wrist where I wore the scrap of leather that I’d found marking Gabe’s place in the book he’d been reading before he left us. I’d been wearing it ever since the night Gabe left us.
“What else would you call it?” But I disagreed with myself even as I spoke the words. I pushed my sleeve down so it covered the bracelet.
I glared at him until he lowered his head and tangled his fingers in the yarn. The backs of my eyes burned, and my throat squeezed painfully tight. I wasn’t sure if it was the subject matter or Jonn’s dogged persistence in dealing with my emotions that triggered these almost-tears, but either way, it had to stop.
The silence got too thick, and it made me jumpy. I stood.
“I should see to the animals. And after that, I have to go into the village. We’re nearly out of food, and we need something more than that scrap of rabbit to feed us until quota day. Unless you’d rather eat nothing but dried turnips and potatoes?”
“I’m fine,” I said, gritting my teeth. “Really.”
He sighed and let me change the subject. “Fish would be good. Just be careful. You’re in a mood today. Don’t rile the Farthers.”
I wasn’t in a “mood.” I was sick of being harassed. But all I said was, “I’m used to the Farthers by now.”
. Saying it felt like cursing.
“I’m going to milk the cow and collect the eggs. You should make sure Ivy gets up. That yarn has to be finished—quota is due in two days.”